As actor’s bodies are their tools, it makes sense to stay as blank as possible to be able to adapt to any role. Makeup more often covers real life artwork like the lizard wearing a top hat on Nicolas Cage’s back, or the Chinese demon on Charlie Sheen’s shoulder. You may not have ever seen these tattoos on these actors as they are often camouflaged on film and in photo shoots. Utilizing the latest in makeup technology, theatrical tattoo designs can now be made highly detailed, in full-color and set to be water-proof and smudge-proof for the better part of a day or two’s shooting, closely approximating the often complex designs and fine details of modern style tattooing.
In the post-modern "Memento" the story runs backwards in ten minute segments, matching the main character's limited span of recallable memory. Guy Pierce plays a man who can't make new memories, so he maintains an elaborate system of notes, sometimes in the form of messages to himself tattooed all over his body. The permanance of the notes trap him in a neverending cycle of trying to find and get revenge on his wife's killer. For more details, see The Tattoos of MEMENTO.
More recently, the hero gets to be tattooed too. In the recent action release “XXX” nearly all the actors sport some form of makeup tattoo. Vin Diesel as Xander Cage, extreme undergrounds sports enthusiast turned spy, has full sleeves, chest and stomach work. For more details, see The Tattoos of xXx.
In the BLADE trilogy, Wesley Snipes plays a vampire-human hybird who hunts vampires while sporting a paramilitary leather wardrobe and Polynesian-influenced tribal tattoos on his arms, shoulders, neck and head. The Tattoos of BLADE.
The drama “The Salton Sea” also had lots of tattooed characters. Val Kilmer was given full sleeves and a full backpiece in his role as a musician turned police informant. For more details, see The Tattoos of THE SALTON SEA.
Matthew McConaughey's US Calvary officer Denton Van Zan has tribal dragon designs all over his chest, arms and back in the recent fantasy thriller "Reign of Fire." For more details, see The Tattoos of REIGN OF FIRE.
To check out these tattoos for yourself, you might want to take a look at Tattoos in the Movies.